Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Ten Essentials for a New Career

Not feeling fulfilled at work? Tired of the day-to-day grind? Ever dream about owning your own business or “following your passion”?

If you think you want a new career, it’s time to do some serious preparation. As an “outdoor enthusiast” (thank you, REI Marketing) and former REI employee, I am very familiar with the Ten Essentials - a list of essential items recommended for outdoor safety in the backcountry. As a career coach and a career changer myself, I have taken the liberty to compile my own list of Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career.

Now, sometimes people are forced to change their career whether they want to or not. Just ask anyone who has spent their life devoted to the newspaper business how they feel about changing their career. I had several ex-newspaper clients who had a tough time with the process. They were traumatized and understandably so after spending a lifetime – many of them twenty or thirty years – in a profession they loved and then being forced to find a new way to make a living.

Whether you choose it or not, a career change is an adventure and like all adventures, you want to be as well-prepared - physically, mentally and emotionally - as you can be. In these examples of famous career switchers see if you can find some common themes that may give you some tips for successfully changing your own career:

Alton Brown, the Food Network host of Good Eats and Iron Chef America and creator of two food mini-series, has received numerous awards and recognition as a food guru. Brown started out his career behind the camera as a cinematographer. He decided he could do a better job than the cooking show chefs he was filming. He enrolled in cooking school and at age 35 graduated from the New England Culinary Institute. A year later, no doubt building on his connections in the TV world, Brown aired his pilot show for Good Eats on PBS. It was picked up the next year by Food Network and continues to air today.

Bill Gates founded and led Microsoft full-time until 2006, when he began transitioning into working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In 2008, at age 52, Gates began working full-time as a philanthropist devoted to health and education research, quite a change from computers and software development. Gates, an avid reader, studied philanthropists and schooled himself on issues such as third world health challenges, taking advantage of his access to those most knowledgeable in the world on the topics.

French artist Paul Gauguin initially worked as a stockbroker. He spent his free time painting, visiting art galleries, purchasing art, and befriending other artists such as Paul Cezanne. At age 37, he decided to follow his passion and began to paint full time. Although his career change broke up his marriage, he ended up becoming a leading post-Impressionist artist.

Famous career changer Martha Stewart was also a stockbroker. However Martha started out as a model, and became a broker at age 26. Growing up, Stewart learned cooking, sewing and canning from her parents and grandparents. She found she had a knack for domestic arts and at age 35 she began a catering business with a friend from her modeling days. Martha was contracted to cater a book release party by her husband who was president of the publishing company. At the party, Martha met the head of Crown Publishing, who was impressed with her talents and asked her to create a book, Entertaining. Entertaining was released in 1982 and became a New York Times bestseller. Stewart was contracted to produce many more books and her career blossomed from there.

A few others:

Championship heavyweight boxer Jack Dempsey started a restaurant at age 40. A celebrity attraction, Jack Dempsey's Broadway Restaurant in New York City stayed open for nearly 40 years.

Josie Natori worked at Merrill Lynch, where she rose the ranks to become the first female vice president in investment banking. After about ten years as an investment banker, Natori changed her career to fashion and in 1977 founded the Natori Company in her living room. Today, the Natori Company sells upscale fashions, home furnishings and perfume to department stores in at least sixteen countries.

Greg Mortenson was a nurse with a passion for mountain climbing when in his late 30’s he started raising money to build a school in Pakistan. Mortenson is now founder and executive director of the non-profit Central Asia Institute, as well as a writer and speaker.

These are just a few of the famous career changers. There are thousands more, but just looking at these examples, there are some similarities which are important to take note of:

• They each had a cushion of money to start with. And if they didn’t (like Greg Mortenson), they were adept at raising it. Because it takes time to get established in a new career - and often you are starting at the bottom - you need to have the financial wherewithal to sustain you for a couple of years at least. You may need money to take classes to gain skills or certifications. It’s important to do some financial planning before making the switch.

• They each used their connections to help launch and sustain them in their new career. Jack Dempsey, for example, was not known as a great cook. But he did pal around with a lot of celebrities, who all wanted to be seen at his Times Square restaurant.

• They each did what it took to gain the skills and knowledge required to be successful in their new career including going back to school, taking classes and finding mentors. Besides studying third world diseases and education, Bill Gates read up on philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller and used their work as benchmarks for his own organization.

• They each made a commitment to stick to it, and that wasn’t difficult because their new careers consumed their interests, made good use of their natural talents, and inspired them. Josie Natori was so impassioned with being an entrepreneur that she tried other ventures such as owning a McDonald’s franchise and reproducing antiques before she found the perfect business for her.

• They each took a while to transition to their new career, usually a few years.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for, the Ten Essentials for embarking on a new career:

1. Guts
2. Persistence
3. Self-Discipline
4. Patience
5. Humility
6. Hard Work
7. Planning
8. Financial cushion
9. Connections
10. The right skills and knowledge necessary for your chosen career.

Do you have anything to add? If you’ve changed your career, let me know what you think of my list.
The process of changing your career should be something you are looking forward to doing almost as much as the actual new career.  To a mountain climber, the hard work and focus of the climb itself is what creates the sense of fulfillment.  And like a mountain climber, when you have become successful in your new career, you’ll have accomplished quite a feat, one I think comparable to summiting a challenging mountaintop. If you’re well-prepared for that climb – with my handy Ten Essentials as your checklist – you’ll be able to handle any  'rough weather' along the way.

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